I do it, and I do it big. Here's to not forgetting about it.

Archive for October, 2014

Permission Granted

Every Triathlete Ever: OMG, it’s so hard; this is so much work. I’m miserable right now. You should totally do this. It’s great.

Um, what?

I can’t be the only person who has noticed this. When E.T.E. is asked why I should, like, totally do this (this being sign up for X or Y race), typically the response involves his or her addiction to racing. “I just love it, Joan.” Of course, having chosen to do it more than once, I’ve experienced the thoughtfulness of E.T.E. as I panic and question my decision. However, not one of them warned me of what would happen after my first half-ironman.

The afterglow.

Don’t misunderstand. Any fool could reason that life after a big event would feel calmer. I knew my training load would be lighter, despite having two races left in my season. Time in the pool and on the road feels easier now that I’ve experienced what I can accomplish when I put my mind to it. What I was NOT expecting was to be a more forgiving person in the classroom.

I realize that things probably should feel different for me this year, in that I’m no longer quite a rookie at work. I am noticing drastic changes for the better. The way I talk to my students is different. I am much more calm in general, and it takes a lot more for me to become upset by anything that happens at work, really. I had thought that I was already judicious with choosing my battles, but now I am seeing that some situations aren’t even battles. When a student is flipping out about playing a. stupid. note, I handle it much more sensitively.

I must admit that I feel more than a little foolish about this change. I am an experienced musician and have no shortage of empathy for my students as they deal with performance anxiety. Why, then, have I been such a (relative) bitch to them in years previous? I believe the reason is twofold:

1. I have had the opportunity to see their growth despite my imperfection.

One of the many reasons I love being a specialist is that I am privileged to work with my students for several years. There are times I have looked through and executed my lesson plans and thought to myself – shit. Did I teach anyone anything? Now I am able to see students who used to look at me like I have two heads use musical terms with ease and play confidently. Children who once were completely unenthused about playing by themselves eagerly raise their hand to show me what they can do. While I don’t take all the credit, I think it’s fair for me to take some when what they do is pretty solid. They quote things that I have said that make it seem like they have paid attention to me throughout the years despite all the errors I’ve made along the way.

2. I have had the opportunity to see my growth despite my imperfection.

From the department of the bleeding obvious – I’ve always been imperfect. I’ve always made progress nonetheless. However, I have been a musician for so long that the process has often taken place without my being aware of it. The difference between the person who starts something at 4 and the one who starts something at 27 is stark. Only a complete dumbass My head would have to be buried under the sand for me not to be aware of the risks I’ve taken in the last 22 months; I’ve signed more “if you die it’s your own damn fault” waivers than I can count.

It took me 7:35:58 to finish 70.3 miles. Were there things that could have gone better? Of course. Did I do my absolute best? Totes. Are most people faster than I am? Am I black? I know I have a lot of room to grow, not because I’m black and therefore inherently meant to participate in endurance sports but because I know my best can get better. I’m giving myself permission to enjoy where I am right now, despite all of my flaws.

How gracious of me to allow myself to be human, whether I’m in the classroom, on the race course, or anywhere else. I’m welcome.

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I ain’t even mad, y’all – what’s this about?

Disclaimer: My use of the word “slow” is relative. My pace is my pace. I’m using slow because it’s relatively slow compared to a former Lady J. I don’t care what y’all are doing.

Moving on.

I don’t know if you all know this, but marathon training involves quite a bit of running. Apparently, I need to run more for a race that only involves running. Who. Knew. I looked at my training plan and saw tempo run. “Hey Coachie! How fast do I need to go for this?” She looked at my 2:47 half-marathon time from Augusta and said that my pace for my tempo runs should be faster than this. For me, that means somewhere between 11:40 and 12 min miles.

Oh, dear.

You see, my tempo runs were once faster than this. My half-marathon time from 2 and a half months ago was 2:27. Ermahgerd I’m getting worse! I remember when I used to run faster than I do now; what’s happening to my running?! You know, the half-marathon that wasn’t preceded by 1.2 miles in the water and 56 miles with Red Rocket. On my feet that still are coping with plantar fasciitis.

“Come on, Lady J!” you exclaim, a bit perturbed. This isn’t the drama to which we are accustomed. It is MUCH too pragmatic of you not to be upset for running at a slower pace than you once did.” No worries, dear reader. I, too, am uncomfortable not being uncomfortable. But what else can I do? I am where I am. Just as with everything else, barring some unforeseen injury, I will grow stronger if I keep going. Maybe not even faster, although that is likely. But definitely stronger.

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Warning: Triathlon can make it go soft.

Your heart, that is. What else would I be talking about?

All right, kids. It’s been a week since I registered for this madness, and I am quickly realizing that my life is very different than it was just a year ago.

“But Lady J,” you retort. “You were sexy as hell last October, even before you did your first triathlon. What are you talking about?” Well. Who am I to fight an argument like that? *blushes* I’ve got to tell y’all, though – the eyes through which I admire myself in the mirror see life in a new way.

Life can be more than a bit torturous for an introverted perfectionist. Already, my tendency is to share myself fairly selectively. Add to that my feeling that the more people know me the less they’ll want to do with me – quite frankly, it’s a wonder that I open up to anyone. Probably because all humans need connection with one another. Whatevs.

Since triathlon has come into my life, I am finding that I resent that need less and less. What is training but dealing with imperfection? Race day is simply imperfection management. I have learned that excellence and imperfection are not mutually exclusive. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that because my definition of success is changing, I am slowly becoming more comfortable sharing with others.

As I think of just how intense my training will have to be as I approach my first Ironman, I find myself looking forward not to race day itself but to the path that will take me there. I am excited to dig deep and see more of what I am made. The real shocking part is that I am also excited to get to know people who are currently in my life even better. Not only that, it doesn’t scare me to ask for help as it once did. I know I am going to meet a lot of new people and it doesn’t even make me roll my eyes to think about it. What’s that about?!

I think my favorite part of my mellowing is what I see happening in my professional life. I find that a kinder, gentler Lady J is more sensitive to the needs of my students. It is easier for me to see the good in their efforts to make music, even when it sounds absolutely horrific. The words that it takes to convince someone to try something new are coming more naturally to me. My babies are becoming less tense because I am starting to recognize that it is normal for them not to understand something right away, to stumble, and then get it if they keep showing up.

“Lady J,” you say in disbelief. “You teach music. Shouldn’t you know better than anyone that practice is needed to become proficient at anything?” Dammit. You’re right again. And I have always maintained with my students that I don’t expect them to be perfect – only to try their best. I am realizing I have secretly been hoping that they would get it right on the first try because their imperfection is a reflection of my imperfection. The more they play imperfectly, the more I have to deal with my own inadequacies as musician and teacher. Twisted, I know. Now, I am able to celebrate their progress with much more than a sigh of relief. “Thank God I don’t completely suck,” I would think. No, no, NO! “Thank God you stuck with it and can reap the rewards of your hard work.”

So, um, yeah. Lord willing, becoming an Ironman is gonna be pretty sweet. The road and relationships I build along the way are going to be even sweeter. Hugs for everyone!

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Weddings aren’t stupid and World Triathlon Corporation is right

If you got married between 2011 and early 2014 and I was in attendance at your wedding, chances are I was sitting in the back, rolling my eyes. Don’t get it twisted – the super single Lady J is no hater. Nor is it that I don’t have good examples of healthy, long-lasting marriages; my parents just celebrated their 35th anniversary. I believe it was a function of having reached my late twenties and starting to see the marriages of some of my friends who got married when I was in my early twenties start to fall apart. The infamous 50% divorce rate bounced around in my head as I watched people exchange vows. “Wonder which one of them will take the gift I brought in 5 years? Hard to split a toaster in half.” Either way, I would dutifully follow social protocol and feign excitement. “Why are people crying? Anyone can buy a dress, hire makeup artists and say some words.
Talk to me when you’re still married in ten years. Then you’ll have earned that toaster, for reals.”

Of course, this naturally leads me to registering for my first Ironman. Just hear me out, y’all.

Immediately after registering, I checked my email to ensure that everything had processed correctly.

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“Congratulations.” For what? I haven’t done anything. No finish line. Not even a half hour of training. All I did was give you a sizable percentage of my paycheck and here you are congratulating me. Anybody can register for a stupid race. Apparently, my friends are on board with WTC.

Welcome to the journey.

Woo-hoo.

Well done.

What is wrong with everyone?

It is strange to think that I registered for my first race ever just 20 months ago. I remember how excited The Mentor was when I told her what I had done. I reflect upon how I have felt as I’ve registered for subsequent races – usually nervous, occasionally excited. It is only looking back that I see my bravery ended at the finish line but started when I clicked “submit.”

Ohhhhhhhhh.

So when you all have a wedding, it’s like you’re clicking submit! That IS a pretty big deal. We both may DNF, but I buy running shoes long before I cross the finish line. I suppose you can have a toaster and some other stuff to equip you for your epic journey.

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Shoutout Series: Coachie!

I had to be in the right place to write appropriately for my triathlon coach. If I had tried to write this as my “A” race approached, the post probably would have been filled with hate-filled language regarding her plan for me. That being said, there aren’t too many people in the world who inspire me to have a t-shirt made just for them:

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Because of Coachie, I was able to roll up on the Athlete Village at my first half-ironman with confidence. Let me tell y’all – that is no small feat.

You see, I knew of Coachie’s existence long before she knew me. I actually was getting some swimming help from a friend in summer of 2013 when my friend observed her coaching someone else. We spoke briefly at the time, but that was that. Later that summer, one of the trainers at the gym recommended her to me. Finally, that guy who picked me up in the pool said I should check out her services. Months later, I went to one of her evil spin classes. She’s just so charming about it that you almost forget about the pain in your legs. Almost. In the nine months that I’ve trained with her, I have gone from surviving sprint races to feeling great at the half-iron distance. As impossible as whatever is on my training plan may seem, Coachie helps me not just to physically accomplish it but also to mentally wrap my brain around it.

Here’s the thing: Coachie is a great athlete. But that’s not a really big deal. Anyone can put time in and become proficient at something, given her level of dedication. It is her ability – and willingness – to share her knowledge with others in the style of delivery they need in order to thrive that make Coachie amazing to me. If I am not understanding something, she will show me again and again without ever making me feel small. When I do get it, she will share my excitement. She is one of the few people in the whole world with whom I feel I can be vulnerable, which I believe is incredibly difficult for adults to do with one another.

When she is not doing the nearly impossible job of coaching me (or other more capable but less witty clients), she is kicking ass at being a teacher, mother, and wife. She is going to roll her eyes when she reads this, but one time in one of her emails she wrote “my friend” and I geeked out. “Ahhhh! She called me friend! She must think I’m cool!” It’s easy for me to put Coachie on a pedestal because she never puts herself on one. I look up to her because while she walks with the confidence of an Ironman, she also knows she has room to grow. That balance is freaking incredible.

To Coachie – I’m embarrassed you make me gush like this! Thank you for helping Lady J do it.

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Seventy Point Tennessee?!?! Real Talk, Part II

I have a problem.

I wrote in my previous post that I am well-aware that there is nothing I could have accomplished without my incredible family. My parents will be the first to tell you that despite their unwavering support, my greatest weakness is my unwillingness to ask for help. I don’t like when other people see my shortcomings and am fairly convinced that the more people get to know me, the less they’ll want to do with me.

There is a distinct polarity about triathlon. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt stronger while simultaneously feeling so vulnerable. I have no choice but to lean upon others in order to grow, and because of them, I am able to do things of which I never dreamed. I hate these people not only because I love them, but because I need them.

I did the vast majority of my training for Augusta by myself. However, it was really special to have so many people that I know racing not just there but at other sites. When I wasn’t praying for mercy on my own soul, I found myself praying for them. Both the starting and finish line hugs were incredible.

Look, y’all. I had taken full Ironman off of my bucket list. 3M, The Mentor, Coachie – all three of them can attest to the fact that I was a hot mess all of August. Of course, as I was tapering I was looking to races for next year. “Maybe I could become an Ironman in another country! Switzerland! Austria! Mexico! Ich bin und Ironman. Soy un Ironman. Pretty sexy. All the crap leading up to it notwithstanding.

Then – I stopped to linger on the crap. I’ve seen my friends make giant sacrifices to earn the title “Ironman.” Each of them expresses their indebtedness to those around them. While one person earns the title, there is no one that does it without MAJOR help.

I need help. A lot of help. So I’m going where the people are.

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Seventy Point Family: Real Talk, Part I

When I registered for Augusta on New Year’s Eve, I told my parents soon after. Mom’s response? “Unless you plan on texting from transition to let me know you’re okay, we’re coming.” Tee hee. I suggested to my father that we turn it into a field trip by stopping in his hometown of Rochelle, GA on the way there. He agreed and seemed pleased.

“How long is this business you’re doing again?” Mom would frequently ask. “70.3!” She would pause. “That’s how many miles you’re doing?” I would sigh, exasperated. “Why do we have to keep having this same conversation?” She finally replied to my satisfaction one evening in September. “It’s so long – I think I have a mental block against that distance.”

What I love about my parents is that while it may take them awhile to wrap their collective brain around something I’m doing, they are always ready to support me. As much as I’ve doubted myself along the way, I never questioned their support for me. I thank God that He allowed me to be born to parents who after almost 30 years are still invested in my growth. Good thing, too, because as I age I appreciate their love for me more and more.

After the race, we drove into Rochelle to the property where my grandfather used to work and my father was born. It was remarkable to meet the man who now owned the farm and see my Dad learn more about his personal history. My grandfather died before Baby J made her debut; I missed him by weeks! I actually am named after him – he was John. Dad always describes him as a man among men, who chose to make a grueling move from rural Georgia to south Florida to make a better life for his family. My father often says that he stands on the shoulders of a giant.

I am learning and accepting that I, too, stand on the shoulders of my amazing family. Whether it’s playing music or doing triathlon, I could not do any of it without their unfailing love for me.

I’m going to stop writing now. I’m starting to want to pay it forward with a family of my own. I have races coming up.

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N.B. – It’s fitting that 3M is in this picture taken before I lined up in my wave. Pretty sure she’s in for the Lady J long haul. ❤️

Seventy Point Glee! Race Report

The Swim

Man, was I thankful that I didn’t have to jump into the water. That’s some gangsta ish. That’s not how I roll. I sat on the dock and slid myself into the water. The girls went ahead of me but I just hung on to the dock. I was determined to go my own pace and I wanted to wait until I heard the horn.

My pace for the swim? 120 BPM.

After the horn, I turned on my mental playlist to John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever. March tempo the whole way, baby. I know I can maintain that tempo comfortably. Oh, hey water in my left eye. Wasn’t expecting that. “I’ll be okay! I can see – where’s the first buoy?” I looked under the water and saw some creepy mossy looking business. Note to self – close eyes under the water. Blech. Oh, hi buoy! I settled into my rhythm and started chanting to myself. “Don’t forget to kick. Don’t forget to kick. I’m not scared. I’m not alone. Who’s not scared? Joan’s not scared. Stroke. Stroke. Stroke. Stroke.”

The water felt absolutely wonderful. I must admit – another reason I close my eyes under the water is because as I breathe on my right side and return my face to the water, I see the bubbles caused by my right hand and freak out a little. “What the hell is that?! It’s your hand, Joan. Chill out.” 🙂 The best part about closing my eyes is that my other senses heighten. There are not words that accurately describe how much I delight in the sound of my arm hitting the water. The depth reminds me of a bass drum. You know how a sista can’t get enough of that bass, riiiiiiggght?

The buoys changed color from yellow to orange. Progress! I started to hear people shouting. Tee hee. Maybe one of them is my Mom! I started to listen for “Go Jo!” Nope. Keep swimming. I saw some people standing on a dock and I swam that way. They pointed me around a corner. “Oh good! Not sure how I would get out of there.” Whoa. The first leg is done.

The Bike

In transition, I threw on my bike shorts over my tri shorts. You know – tryna protect mah girl for the 1% chance I become a mother to more than cats. As I turned onto the main road out of T1, there was a bit of an incline. “First hill! Nailed it!” I giggled.

If you don’t already know, Red Rocket and my relationship is just beginning to become less tenuous. Just to illustrate, in my last training rides before the race, I was excited to be able to signal turns. I can take my hand off the handlebars for more than a split second now! Smashing! What I’m saying here is that hydrating/getting nutrition while still riding is still out of the question for me at this point. I made a plan to stop every 30 minutes to drink and eat and not take more than a minute to do so. My first stop was uneventful. Sweet.

As I kept riding, I was feeling more confident. I took my right hand off of the handlebars and touched the water bottle. “Ermahgerd could this happen today?! Could today be the day that I drink and ride?!” Then I heard the voices of both Coachie and The Mentor in my head. “Nothing new on race day!” Come on. Could that really apply to drinking a little water on mah ride? I touched the water bottle again. I got a grip on it and pulled. It was free! I held it triumphantly – and quickly realized I wasn’t woman enough to try drinking from it now that I had it free. It was almost time for a scheduled stop, anyhow, so I pulled over to put it back. I always clip out with my left first and lean that way to get back on the ground. Aaaaand Red Rocket wanted to go to the right. “Shit. SHIT. SHIT!!!!” But I unclipped righty in time. A passing rider asked if I was okay. “I’m cool!” I replied. Thanks to my p***y like reflexes, anyhow. Moving on as originally planned – stop to hydrate. 🙂

Having those stops planned proved to be very helpful mentally. “I don’t have to ride for four hours. I just have to ride for 30 minutes – 8 times on a row. I can do that.” A couple of those 8 rides were REALLY hard. I was so thankful that my longtime friend had given me a heads up about this big ass downhill. He said that he saw people freak out and break going down and not have the momentum to get back up again. Suddenly, I felt myself going down faster than ever. I didn’t look down at my Garmin because I knew I would see a number that would make me freak. I pedaled through and shifted down like a boss. Then the equally big ass uphill came. I checked the Garmin. 6 mph, it read. If I weren’t breathing so hard I would have laughed. But I made it up the hill! The last aid station was just ahead. A man said that the worst was behind me. “You promise?! Don’t lie to me!” I said. “I promise!” He smiled.

I talked to God a lot on this ride. I sang myself songs. I said my personal chant to myself. “Pedal pretty! Pedal pretty!” I remembered to push and pull and listened to the sounds of the revolutions. Revolutionary, indeed. I found myself glad I was clipped in. Red Rocket and I bonded a lot. I’m not going to say I wasn’t glad to see the “Welcome to Georgia” sign indicating my ride was almost over but I wasn’t dead. Good thing – my run awaits.

The Run

After grabbing my CamelBak and changing shoes, I started to run. 5/1. Let’s do this. I felt good – at first. I was on the same 30 minute plan I had been on as I rode – nutritionally, anyhow. I can walk and drink like a freaking BEAST. Tee hee. After a mile or so I started to feel super drained. Then I looked down and realized I hadn’t taken off my cycling shorts in transition. Whoops! “That’s okay,” I thought to myself. “That’s not enough to stop me from finishing.”

I had seen some of the amazing group cheering for me as I ran. I smiled and exchanged some high fives. After I passed them, I thought, “Hmm. I’ll probably see them again. Maybe I could give them my shorts. Nah. I can finish with the shorts on.”

My pace got slower. And slower. Aaaaand slower. I passed the 3 mile mark and started thinking. “You know what? 60.2 is nothing to be ashamed of.” The two lap half-marathon was a bit of a tease, in that you see people headed toward the finish as you are on lap one. Some dude passed me and was like, “We can totally do this for twenty more minutes. Let’s go!” I grinned and said nothing – not because I was ashamed of being on lap one but I didn’t feel like hearing what was sure to be a patronizing response.

I saw the group again and stopped. “I left on my cycling shorts! Take them please!” I heard some dude shout, “Put your clothes back on!” Some chick passing said, “I’ve never seen anything like that. That. Is. Awesome.” I grinned and continued. I felt 20 pounds lighter and my pace picked up again. Rock on.

After about mile 4, some chick rolled up next to me. “How fast are we going?” My Garmin read about a 12 minute mile. We ran together for a bit and she asked if I minded if she stayed with me. “Nope!” I told her my 5/1 plan and she said that’s what she had been doing as well.

As we ran, I learned that this was also her first 70.3. Moreover, she also normally trains alone like Lady J and is a teacher like Lady J – an art teacher, even! Specialist triathletes unite! God sent me a kindred spirit for the last 10.1 – and man, did she help me. Yes, I still had to control what was going on in my own head. The rhythm of my chants helped for reals. Lady J can’t lie though, y’all. There isn’t anything in the world like leaning on someone and allowing her to lean on you. Some of those 5 minute intervals became more like 4/2. 3/3. It was getting done, nonetheless. After mile 12, we started strategizing our finish line pose. I would jump left, she would jump right. Amazing.

7 hours, 35 minutes and 58 seconds. I ain’t mad. And you know what? I could do that again. With the same help, of course. Thanks again, Lord!

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